The artificial tympanic membrane (1840-1910): From brilliant innovation to quack device OTOLOGY & NEUROTOLOGY Chu, E. A., Jackler, R. K. 2003; 24 (3): 507-518


To present the rich and checkered history of the artificial eardrum, a widely used device in the 19th century, and to illustrate the behavior of otologists in response to the introduction of a promising new technology.Over 40 published books and articles spanning the years 1821 to 1909 in English, German, and French. DEVICE DESCRIPTIONS: A wide variety of devices were used to improve hearing and, purportedly, to reduce aural discharge. The most popular devices were made of gutta percha attached to a silver wire stem (Toynbee) and cotton balls with extraction cords (Yearsley). Other membranes included India rubber, lint, tin or silver foil, and even the vitelline membrane of an egg. Adhesion to the drum remnant was with saliva, water, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), or glycerin. Some were applied by the physician, whereas others were inserted daily by the patient, much as contact lenses are today.In several cases, the method of positioning an object over the drum remnant was actually invented by clever patients and then later adopted by practitioners. Once introduced, great optimism was generated about the "miraculous" value of this deafness cure. Petty jealousy among early inventors led to very public (and unprofessional) quarrels over the primacy of invention and bickering about whose device was superior. Over the subsequent decades, as more experience demonstrated the device's limited value, enthusiasm waned until otologists largely abandoned these devices around the turn of the last century. In the first two decades of the 20th century, artificial eardrums reached their peak of fame among the public when they were enthusiastically (and dishonestly) marketed by numerous quacks through newspaper advertisements as a universal cure for all forms of deafness. Only with the coming of the Food and Drug Administration did advertisements for US dollars 5 mail-order, medicated eardrums disappear from popular newspapers and magazines.

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